I wrote this post when I was busy laughing at my struggles to learn a lesson I thought I knew well. I got to thinking about how people sometimes assume I’m really living the dream… that I’ve figured it all out. That I’ve “arrived.”
My location-independent life is a rollercoaster of certainty and uncertainty. So are most lives. It’s true, when settled you might be less aware of the uncertainty, but it’s always there. Here I’ve chronicled my moments of both bliss and terror over the last seven years.
First, a sampling of the times I’ve had the certainty of a solid plan meant to carry me well into the future. Here’s what I was doing and thinking:
- Quitting my job to travel. (2010)
Hell yes! Finally my dream of just jumping in the river of life and seeing where it takes me is happening! I am so certain that spending a year just listening and watching and experiencing is the right thing to do. This is amazing!
- Leaving the U.S. for a year in New Zealand. (2010)
I’m going for a year, I’m buying a van, I’m getting a job. Done.
- Leaving New Zealand for Asia. (2011)
I’m finally going to just relax and travel with no plans, save meeting up with family in Bali in five months. That’s it.
- Deciding to do a working holiday in Australia. (2012)
One year of life scheduled. I’ll work, save money, buy a farm with my (now former) beau, make some babies, live happily ever after.
- Accepting a job in Australia. (2013)
See? I knew if could be strong enough to resist the allure of security, the realm of excellence would be a foregone conclusion. And now here I am! Six months in this job and then I’m never going to be an employee ever again.
- Deciding to “move” to Australia. (2014) with my Australian boyfriend.
I can do this. I can compromise on full-time nomad life. I can base myself in Australia, start a collection of AirBnbs in all my favorite countries, and still be basically nomadic. Boyfriend promises he can meet in the middle. I believe him.
- Accepting long-term house sitting jobs. (2015)
I’ll go to the east coast for several months, I’ll check out the aerial and acrobatic school I’m interested in, my parents can come to a place they’ve never been for Christmas, and probably I’ll like the school and start going there in January.
- Starting Aerial and Acrobatic School. (2016)
OMG I can’t believe this is finally happening! I can’t wait to play like I’ve never played before. I am so thankful for this amazing opportunity. And I get to do it all in the context of my favorite living situation, work exchanging, which allows for the quality of connection that only dependence can foster. I love my life.
- Finishing Circus School. (2016)
That was amazing. I genuinely believe I added at least a decade to my physical life. Not only did I have an incredible amount of fun, I gained skills and proprioception I never knew were possible. And now I’m going to spend the summer with my family and the fall with my west coast friends and maybe even get to work a job that has been a lifelong dream of mine (wildland firefighting). Life is good. So insanely good. Lucky as.
- Helping My Sister & Nephews. (2016)
Well, there goes the west-coast-friends-and-firefighting fall. But now I get to help my sister with a major life transition. And as a result, I’ll also get unprecedented, once-in-a-lifetime, daily quality time with my nephews. Plus, I can still do my “regular life” – I’ll just be a nomad with a home base for a while. Happiness!
- Solving the Puzzle of Seeing my Besties, et. al. (2017)
Damn. Time really does fly. Before my west coast plans got cancelled, it was going to be two years since I’d seen great friends there. Now it’s going to be three by the time I touchdown in Portland. Three years. But I’m going! And I got those impromptu tickets to Australia! And I’m going to fit in seeing the best people in Idaho. And I’ll get to see my other sister and nephews. And go see my favorite east coast homesteaders. And go to Belize with my mama. 2017, I love you.
Ain’t All Roses
However, in that same stretch of years, I’ve also had the same brand of uncertainty you get on a job hunt, or an apartment hunt, or if you’re really lucky… both at once! You probably know the intense terror of not having your living space, income, or routine afeeling like it’s guaranteed. Nomad life comes with plenty of this horror. Examples and related thoughts at those times:
- Just after I quit my job to travel. (2010)
I know I want to do this. But now that I have, and now that I’m sitting here looking at an unknown future (where will I go after this summer of weddings I have to attend?), I feel nervous. All my friends are on career paths or getting master’s degrees or PhD’s. Should I be doing that too? It doesn’t feel like it. But what if I’m wrong? What if I regret this? Not knowing feels icky. I’m ready for a plan, please.
- Choosing a launch country. (2010)
My partner-at-the-time was onboard with throwing caution to the wind and spending at least a year abroad traveling. (What a guy!) When we finished with our post-job American obligations (weddings), our bank balances made cashing-up more appealing than continuing our current spree of R&R.
Thoughts: How much money do we need? Where should we start? What if we fail to take into account a key variable and end up stuck in a sub-standard situation for an entire year? Should we teach English in Korea? Can I handle life in a patriarchal, authoritarian culture? Is it worth spending even more time in limbo while waiting on the red tape? Where else could we go and work? Would we make enough money for onward travels teaching in Thailand? Somewhere in Africa? Would New Zealand be so similar to the U.S. that it isn’t challenging or interesting? (Answer: no!)
- Finding a job in New Zealand. (2010)
Where will I make use of my work visa in New Zealand? Will I make as much money as I want to make? Who will hire me? ((A vineyard, a bar, a café, and many other side jobs, as it turns out.))
- Figuring out a European sanctuary (2012)
Freaking Schengen regulations ruined everything for travelers. Suddenly all of Europe is one country, and we just need to sit and stare at a wall for awhile. But we would like to do so without burning precious Schengen time. Where should we go? How soon until I become catatonic with exhaustion and get stuck wherever I happen to be at the time?
- Going to Australia anyway + Job hunting (2013)
Well, when I organized this visa eight months ago, life was very different. Now I’m not in the longest relationship of my life and I don’t even want my own farm anymore. I still want to do this, though, despite my original reason for doing it dissolving. Now… just to get a job that involves work I want to do for pay that makes it worth my time. These visa restrictions are really kicking my ass, though.
- Waiting to Find Out Future Timing (2014) –
Why didn’t we apply for the Australian Partner Visa right when we were eligible? When is it going to get approved? Will I get stuck in limbo in Asia waiting for it to process? Will boyfriend follow through on his promises about lifestyle compromise? Can a corporate engineer who happily spends ludicrous amounts of money on “nice things” ever be happy with the simplicity I adore? Is all the money and time and geography I’m investing in this relationship going to have a good ROI? (Answer: No.)
- Figuring out my life after two years of over-compromising. (2015)
My life was bathed in a general numbness and involved more feelings bwhich aren’t my strong suit, being a solid Myers-Briggs “T” than thought-clarity. Changing so many facets of one’s identity (daily life, routine, living space, friends, mode of existence, country, future plans, etc.) all at once is pretty gobsmacking. Thoughts might have been: I don’t know what the f*ck I am going to do. It’s been so long since I’ve been allowed to think about my own priorities, I don’t even know what they are any more. I know I need time to think. And I know I am completely empty emotionally and therefore have nothing to give to family or friends who are offering me space to recover. I need to sort out my own space to think and slowly piece my life together.
- Figuring out how to make Circus School happen. (2015)
I really want to do this life-long dream of mine of playing on the trapeze and other fun circus apparatuses. But I have zero-interest in living alone or living-alone-together. I won’t be happy spending months of my time not being dependent on others or having them be dependent on me. I won’t do this unless I can find a work-exchange and be part of a family.
- Returning to Full-Time Nomad Life. (2017)
Ahhhh!!! I’m going to fall weather in the southern hemisphere, and then summer weather in the northern hemisphere. For sure on outdoor adventures, and then the tropics, and I don’t even know where after that. How am I going to figure out what to pack and how to prepare for dozens of different possible scenarios? What if I guess wrong? What if I forget to ship something I need to Oregon? Since I’m shipping stuff, should I ship stuff I think I might need or just the stuff I know I need? Will I regret it if I do? Will I regret it if I don’t? (Answers in this post, my friends.)
The grass ain’t always greener on the other side, folks. Every lifestyle is full of beautiful but fleeting certainty while dependably including massive amounts of uncertainty. It’s the latter that keeps many people from taking action on their travel dreams. If you’ve got global aspirations, don’t let fear of any kind stop you! Check out: 12 Tools to Become Fearless and Unstoppable.